Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Prenatal class reunion with our new additions (Sept 6)

At our last prenatal class in May, we planned a reunion with all of our newest additions for September. One of the couples, Joe and Etain, offered their place and we all brought snacks while they provided refreshments. I attempted a speculoos cheesecake which turned out pretty good. Anyway, it was fun to see all the cute little babies and their tired, yet delighted new parents! We shared stories and bounced ideas off of each other. We look forward to hanging out with some of them in the future, especially since six out of the eight couples live nearby.

Reagan and me, Jo and Luke, Nina and Nilou, Etain and Oisin, Maraid and Patrick (Unfortunately Ana and Kate along with Joana and Martin weren't present and Rachel and Hugh left early)
Reagan smiling in Daddy's arms
Reagan and her little friend, Nilou, who's 1/2 Swedish and 1/2 Belgian (maybe she'll learn a foreign language from her someday!)
Luke and his father Dave
Joe and his son Oisin

Largest Flea Market in Europe located in Lille, France (Sept 5)

Every first weekend of September, Lille is the capital of bargain-hunting! The Braderie de Lille is Europe’s largest flea market, and certainly one of the most well-known events in France and abroad. Between one and two million visitors stroll up and down the city streets, entertained by music and the numerous performances that take place from Saturday to Sunday. Also you will see many people enjoying a dish of “Moules and Frites” (mussels served with fries) which has become a deeply-rooted tradition and is the subject of a contest between the town’s restaurants to see who can build the highest mountain of empty mussel shells!

This was actually our second year to attend the flea market and will probably make it a third before heading back to the States since we enjoy these kinds of events so much. We were lucky to have a really nice day and Reagan even cooperated nicely hanging out (snoozing mostly) in her baby bjorn carrier all day. We found a few bargains: a 'Burgundy', France wine holder, oak medicine cabinet, Chimay beer sign, and some baby clothes. It's not only a great antique fair, but it also consists of several garage sale type booths. After wandering up and down about half of the streets lined with vendors, we stopped for a bowl of mussels and fries to help add to the piles around town. We pushed our way through a few more aisles before calling it a day. I think I was more tired than Shannon and Reagan and ended up crashing on the way home.

Does anyone need an old fashion coffee grinder? I can't get over how easy it is to find them here. I already bought one at Tongeren's antique market, but still have fun checking out others.
Mini roll-top oak desk which I thought was kind of cute
Shannon wanted to buy this for the chateau he plans on building someday!
We even spotted a wandering crocodile!
There were an abundance of tin watering cans as well
Here is an antique wooden, I did not try it out!
Some of Lille's beautiful buildings near one of the many streets filled with antiques
Old fashion tea kettles / pots
We came across a cool wooden rocking motorcycle...if only Reagan was a bit older Shannon said!
Pile of mussel shells outside of the restaurant we ate at
Shannon enjoying a pot of moules (mussels) in a garlic cream sauce along with frites (fries)
I actually ate some too...they were really good; actually better than some I've had in Brussels where you're suppose to find some of the best mussels around.
Notice the milk bottle carriers which we like to use as wine holders
African art
Shannon and Reagan stopping for a quick photo with an interesting tower in the background
If only we had room in our apartment for one of these beautiful wooden trunks
Wine / Champagne bottle holders...we actually got one of these in Reims, France. My mother purchased it as an early Christmas gift since she visited Champagne, France with us at the end of August.

Some of Reagan's first visitors

After settling in back at home, we had a steady stream of visitors for the first few weeks. It was fun introducing our little one to all our friends and most importantly to her Grandmother (my mom) who flew all the way from Nebraska to see her newest grandchild.

We tried to take pictures of all of Reagan's visitors, but we missed a few here and there. For instance, Shannon's coworker, Sara, dropped by and gave Reagan an adorable Petite Bateau outfit with cardigan. Also Shannon's clients, Michael and Lan, came by with a huge pan of lasagna and some cute outfits. Another friend, Simone, dropped off a pan of tacoritos which were fantastic (her and Maisie also visited us in the hospital). We gave everyone sachets filled with pink and purple pastel chocolates and white coated almonds as a little token of appreciation for stopping by (it's a Belgian tradition). Many of our visitors came bearing gifts including items such as chocolate, flowers, food, clothes and other baby items. It was way more than what we expected and feel lucky to have such nice friends.

Our neighbors Ivan, Klara and Andrija who live in the apartment above us (Klara had her baby a few weeks later)
Rosie and me: She brought us a box of Neuhaus Chocolates. Just what I didn't need for my post pregnancy figure, but of course I didn't decline them! I used to run with Rosie and actually met her through some of our other friends, Christina and Stig who now live in Norway.
Vicky lives a few streets behind us and we actually met her through Christina and Stig as well. Both her and Rosie are from the UK originally and both just got married this past year.
Leah is another traveling Deloitte spouse who I hang out with. She looks so proud! I think she'll be a good babysitter! She brought over lunch one day along with a delicious strawberry tart from Au Vatel in Place Jourdan. Also she so kindly is lending me all the Sex and The City seasons so I have something to watch on rainy days with Reagan; hopefully it won't corrupt her being this young!
Some of Reagan's pretty flowers she received from Vicky and our neighbors Klara and Ivan
Shannon's coworkers (Katie's) baby, Daisy, who is only a few weeks older than Reagan. Both Katie and her husband, Joel, came to visit while their 2 year old, Josh, stayed with a babysitter. They brought Reagan a cute purple flower top and pant outfit.
Shannon's coworker, Rick, starting Reagan as a wine connoisseur already. This was the first time we brought Reagan to a restaurant. She acted ok, but had to be held most of the time, so it was kind of hard to eat.
Stephanie (Rick's wife), who I do a lot with and fortunately lives on the street behind us! They brought over corn and potato chowder and made grilled cheese sandwiches for us one evening and even did the dishes before they left!
Dallas and Thomas cycled over to see us one weekend and took some lovely shots of Reagan and also brought us 'New Parents' Chocolate Muffins which were quite tasty. I met Dallas through my blog page
Naoko, my Japanese friend from French school. She brought Reagan some 'Hello Kitty' cloths, a colorful stuffed elephant and some cute burp cloths.
My neighbor, Klara and her new son, Danilo. Reagan is showing her naughty side even though I thought by wearing her 'Happy' shirt she'd be a little more polite!
My mother came at the end of August and enjoyed cuddling with Reagan as much as she could. By the end of her trip, I think Reagan liked her more than me!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Annevoie Gardens: "Les Jardins d'Annevoie", Belgium (July 26)

At 1 week old we thought we should integrate Reagan into our desire to travel about every weekend. Thus, we loaded up the baby gear and headed to The Annevoie Gardens, just a little over an hour away between Namur and Dinant. Some of our friends, Stephanie and Rick Cohan, went to them earlier in the Summer and said they were pretty neat. We agreed after seeing the beautifully groomed gardens and its amazing natural water fountains.

Reagan did great, so I think we'll be doing several more daytrips if not overnight trips in the near future. She even timed her diaper change perfectly, as she decided to give us a nice present right as we arrived at the Gardens instead of while we were touring them! She also slept most of the time which made our first outing seem quite easy.

After visiting The Annevoie Gardens, we tried to visit the Spontin castle nearby, but once we arrived, we were told by some folks in the town that they don't do tours anymore and is thus closed to the public. It's a pretty neat castle with a moat and some towers, so we were a bit bummed. I've been by it numerous times since it's very close to Dinant; oh well, there's a ton of other castles to visit in Belgium and the rest of Europe!

Anyway, here is a little background on The Annevoie Gardens:

The Annevoie Gardens were designed and laid out by Charles-Alexis de Montpellier in the 18th century. They remained family property until 2000, when ownership passed to Stephan Jourdain. The gardens have been constantly improved over the years to reflect current trends.

Three styles exist:
The French Style - art enhancing nature. One keynote: symmetry. This architecture shuns curves and bends, preferring to create long majestic vistas.

The Italian Style - art in tune with nature. An architecture which emphasizes contrasts, variety and surprise effects. The water features have pride of place.

The English Style: art imitating nature. Aiming to reproduce a natural effect by artificial means, this architecture follows the return-to-nature movement espoused by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the English Romantics.

Water has flowed naturally in the Annevoie Gardens for over 250 years, relying solely on natural differences in levels and without resorting to machinery. The gardens are crossed by a network of surface and underground canals. Water runs down the hills beside the Chateau thanks to the main reservoir of the Grand Canal. The entire system is governed by the simple principle of communicating vessels.

Open from April - October every day from 9:30 - 5:30 and in July and August from 9:30 - 6:30. (Entrance Fee)

Places of interest nearby include: Dinant Citadel, Maredsous Abbey, Freyr Chateau and Veves Chateau

Here is the website for further information:

Shannon toted Reagan around in her baby bjorn carrier most of the day. She actually slept most of the time.
Some examples of the gardens and fountains

I loved the fish fountains
They even had large vegetable and fruit plots in a few sections of the gardens.
There were a few covered tree pathways which were interesting. One even had a 'love fountain' in it.
Some more peaceful looking fountains
Posing by the Rose gardens
Reagan and I enjoying the beautiful scenery
Beautiful Chateau on the grounds
Overlooking the gardens
Shannon trying to show off Reagan in the carrier, but we didn't want to disturb our sleeping beauty too much for photos!
Just another angle of the grounds
These are Raspberry bushes which I heard you can pick if you're visiting the gardens when they're ripe. Unfortunately, we were a bit too late and they were picked dry except for 1 or 2 Shannon found which tasted pretty good.
Some larger more natural setting fountains
Overview of the gardens
I loved how the hedges looked so perfect which is the case in most of Belgium's parks and gardens